A college student’s documentary as part of a senior project highlights the impact of social media after Hurricane Sandy, and I think illustrates the role that such communications played in bringing people, community, and information together during a time of need.

From Newsworks/Down the Shore blog:

A new documentary by a Rutgers University student focuses on the social media response to Superstorm Sandy.

Elizabeth Herlihy, a senior journalism major, recently released ”Sandy: A Social Media Storm,” chronicling how individuals, media, elected officials, and small organizations leveraged social media to assist storm-ravaged shore communities.

Herlihy, whose family lives at the shore, produced the documentary as part of the final requirement for her minor,  ”Digital Communication, Information and Media.”

“Through this minor, I have been able to explore various forms of new media and study its expanding role in our digital society,” she said.

The film weaves in footage of storm damage and recovery work with a variety of interviews with people who actively used social media to cover the storm, seek assistance for communities, and organize volunteers, including Sea Bright Mayor Dina Long, Lavallette Mayor Walter LaCicero, Sandy Weekday Warriors’ Joan Delucia, Bucket Brigade’s Cassandra Vitale, Ortley Strong’s Meg Stagliano and Eileen Koehler, and Jersey Shore Hurricane News’ Justin Auciello.

I was glad to see someone highlighting the role that social media played as a support structure for people after Hurricane Sandy.  As someone who lives in NJ and can still remember the storm as if it were yesterday, I frequently recount for others how helpful social media was to so many people during this time.

From a communications standpoint, it was an experience that’s hard to describe.  Immediately following the storm, most of us in the state were left without any power for many days or weeks, some for even much longer than that.  There were no phone lines, no televisions to let us know what was going on.  If you were lucky, you could get a radio station, but not everyone had that.  It was an eerie sense to feel so disconnected at a time when information was so crucial to people in the state.  But one thing that many in NJ realized could still connect us to the outside world was social media.

Especially for those hardest hit along the Jersey shore, social media proved to be far more of a tool in helping people.  As you’ll hear in the video, some used social media and digital communication to help disseminate and coordinate information about individuals who needed to be rescued, and about others who needed supplies.  Many took to Facebook and Twitter to help coordinate recovery efforts, and social media’s far reaching capabilities brought people from all over to come in and assist with efforts.  Food, supplies, blankets, whatever people needed, much of that was also coordinated through social media.  The medium of social media became a primary tool in disseminating information and coordinating responses in such a direct way that many had not necessarily experienced before.

And over time, social media has also become a vehicle through which many have been able to connect and begin to heal in the aftermath of the storm.

One of those interviewed in the video explains that she hadn’t used Facebook very much until Hurricane Sandy, and then it became an invaluable tool in coordinating support in cleanup efforts.  She later describes bonding with volunteers over the last year.

“You really make concrete bonds with people when you’re working shoulder to shoulder through the worst of times.  And the truth is, it’s really the beauty of the storm.”

In the days and weeks after Hurricane Sandy, we witnessed through social media an outpouring of support in and around so many communities as people organized and stepped up to help each other out.  It’s true that many people also bonded and forged relationships through those communications.  It was truly an amazing example of one of the more positive sides of the power of social media.

It’s nice to see some of that sentiment captured on video in this college student’s project, and I’m thankful to have come across it.

(Featured image credit: Elizabeth Herlihy / Sandy: A Social Media Storm YouTube video)

 
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